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October 22, 2014

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Local cast likes ‘Mamma Mia’ film

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Las Vegas Sun Photo illustration by Chris Morris / Photo by Universal Pictures

Mamma Mia!

With the major motion picture opening, the Vegas cast of Mamma Mia! reflects on what it thinks about the movie and the production's future.

‘Mamma Mia!’ Cast Member Photos

The cast of the Mamma Mia! show in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

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  • A clip of "Dancing Queen" by ABBA.
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  • A clip of "The Winner Takes It All" by ABBA.
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Where to see them

IF YOU GO: THE MOVIE

What: “Mamma Mia! The Movie”

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some sex-related comments

Running time: 98 minutes

Playing at: Brenden Theatres Las Vegas 14, Century Cinedome 12 Henderson, Century Orleans 18, Century Sam’s Town, Century 16 Santa Fe Station, Century 16 South Point, Galaxy Cannery, Galaxy Neonopolis, Rave Town Square 18, Regal Cinemas Colonnade 14, Regal Cinemas Fiesta Henderson 12, Regal Cinemas Red Rock 16, Regal Cinemas Sunset Station, Regal Cinemas Texas Station 18, Regal Cinemas Village Square 18, UA Rainbow Promenade 10, UA Showcase 8.

IF YOU GO: THE MUSICAL

What: “Mamma Mia!” the musical

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 6 and 10 p.m. Saturday

Where: Mandalay Bay

Admission: $49.50-$110; 632-7580, www.mandalaybay.com

Also this weekend: Music of ABBA Tour (a tribute act “direct from Sweden”); 8 p.m. Saturday, the Cannery; $9.95-$59.95, www.cannerycasinos.com

MAMMA MIA, BY THE NUMBERS

30 million plus: people worldwide who have seen the musical

$2 billion: worldwide box office sales (gross)

13: companies currently performing the show, including three in North America and 10 internationally

5: years the show has played at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas (2,300 performances)

6: performances by touring company last year in Dubai

6: languages in which the show is currently performed

5: Tony Award nominations (2002)

$500,000: raised for breast cancer charities via sales of “Rock Chick Supremo” T-shirts

23: ABBA songs featured in the stage musical

21: “jukebox musicals” spawned by “Mamma Mia!” including “We Will Rock You” and “Jersey Boys”

After five years at Mandalay Bay, “Mamma Mia!” is scheduled to wave goodbye in early January. But if the movie version of the ABBA musical is a hit when it opens today, the Vegas outpost of the stage show may just get its sixth wind. It looks like a sure thing — the movie opened last week in the U.K. and instantly reaped the biggest box office for a musical; the soundtrack album, released this week in the United States, is No. 7 on the Billboard chart.

I saw a sneak preview of “Mamma Mia! The Movie” at the Rave multiplex Sunday with the Vegas cast of the show. So instead of just giving my opinion, here’s what we’ll do in lieu of a review: I’ll give you my two cents, and then hand it over to three people who live the show six days a week, two actors and the musical director of “Mamma Mia!” at Mandalay Bay.

Me, a Las Vegas Sun reporter and reviewer who has seen “Mamma Mia!” four times in four cities:

Silly and slapshticky, a summer vacation postcard fantasia, the hyperenergized movie version of the musical “Mamma Mia!” is “Grease” for the new millennium. “Greece” is the word — the musical was filmed on location and glows with the colors of the sea and the sky in every hue of blue: midnight, aquamarine, turquoise ... And also tan — the screen is filled with frisky young cuties, filmed as often as possible in bathing suits. (Try to see this one at a cinema that uses digital projection; it really makes a difference.)

“Mamma Mia!” was the first megasuccessful “jukebox musical,” basically taking the jigsaw jumble of a greatest hits album and piecing it together song by song into a story line (“Jersey Boys” at the Wynn is a direct descendant). In this case, the show’s creators crammed more than 20 ABBA hits (which didn’t make much sense to start with, and were originally sung in phonetic English) into a plotline.

So if you expect your movies to make sense, it really helps if you’ve seen the musical onstage. Since more than 30 million have, this movie can count on the loyalty of a built-in audience base. The “Mamma” movie takes the regular reality-abjuring movie musical conventions to even more absurd extremes, abandoning logic and laws of physics. Which means characters not only burst into song midsentence, they sing while running through forests, climbing near-vertical hills, scampering across rooftops and hanging upside down. There are flashbacks and fantasy sequences and “Carousel”-style production numbers, with the whole town dancing in the streets and on the beaches (the townspeople function as a literal Greek chorus, to hilarious effect). All the actors (including Pierce Brosnan, Christine Baranski and Colin Firth) do their own singing (and if they didn’t, the opulent neoromantic disco soundtrack would be the ultimate ABBA experience — ABBA composer/musicians Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulnaeus digitally rerecorded all the songs in Stockholm with ABBA’s original Swedish musicians).

It’s a treat to see Meryl Streep having so much fun in a movie. As Donna, an unwed ex-hippie who stayed in Greece to raise her daughter and run an island villa, Streep clowns joyously, with no trace of irony or concern for her dignified image. She turns the climactic number, “The Winner Takes It All” — sung on a cliff at sunset in a windblown goddess gown — into a master class in acting, and provides her sketched-in character with an entire lived-in life in the span of a single song.

• • •

Moriah Angeline plays Sophie, a young woman who is about to be married and invites three men — one of whom may be her father — to the wedding on a tiny Greek island:

“It’s hard for me to separate myself from the character, to be honest. I absolutely did not dislike (actress Amanda Seyfried, who plays Sophie in the movie). I think what is so cool about this show is that they give you such an opportunity to find your own self in it. So I know my Sophie is different from the girl who played it before me, from the girl who played it before her, from Amanda Seyfried. It was very interesting to see her take on it. I spend a lot of time onstage looking out at the ocean, looking out at the moon, and now I have this visual to keep with me of what I’m actually supposed to be seeing.

“In ‘Our Last Summer,’ they pulled the dads in to sing it with Sophie instead of just Harry and Donna. I thought that worked really well (in the movie). They cut out ‘Thank You for the Music,’ which is the way my character connects with all the dads, so I’m glad they still had a way in song for her to connect with them.

“And of course, Meryl Streep — she’s just beautiful and so natural. She just sat in the role and was Donna. I’ve heard that she loves the show and really pushed to do it on-screen. I got chills when she did “The Winner Takes It All.” Every night I’m sitting backstage in my wedding dress waiting for (that song) to be over, and she has to do the whole song without him ever talking to her, as if she’s having a dialogue.”

• • •

Robin Baxter plays Rosie, one of Sophie’s mother’s two friends who have arrived for the wedding. The character is an audience favorite on both stage and screen:

“I’ve been with ‘Mamma Mia!’ for six years, on and off, including Broadway and a national tour, and I love the show, love it as a family. And seeing the movie, I was horribly jealous. But it was fantastic, very loving, very family-oriented, very sweet.

“A few parts struck me as different between the show and the film. It’s interesting, when you’re onstage and you start to sing, it just seems natural, but in the movies it kind of frightens you a little bit at first.

“I was surprised by how well (Streep) handled everything, and ‘The Winner Takes It All’ was beautifully handled, not only vocally, but conveying everything she was feeling that moment.

“I was so jealous of Julie Walters (who plays Rosie in the movie). I loved that bit with her running across the tables at the end. I’ve got a show tonight, so I’ve gotta run — I hope I won’t think too much about what she did when I’m onstage!”

• • •

Bob Bray, musical director, who conducts the eight-piece orchestra and plays one of four keyboards:

“I’m so close to the show — I’ve been doing it for six years now — so it was really fun to see it fully realized, to see it actually take place in Greece, instead of the little set that we have. I love how (the filmmakers) captured the essence of the show in the movie, but still made it totally cinematic instead of stage-bound.

“When (ABBA songwriters) Benny and Bjorn agreed to let them do the show, they said you have to keep the songs as they were originally done. So they painstakingly re-created all the orchestrations from the original ABBA recordings, and they pretty much stuck to those for the movie as well, except they added some real strings. In ‘Money Money,’ they have the Greek chorus that comes in, and I love that they kept that up throughout the whole movie. It’s not entirely feasible to have that in the stage version, because we have a limited number of people.

“I’m a big Meryl (Streep) fan, and in ‘The Winner Takes It All’ she sounded amazing. I was like, wow, listen to her go! That’s a hard song to do. There was a joke back in New York: ‘Oh, I’m gonna give up acting altogether and join ‘Mamma Mia!’ But there’s a challenge involved with performing this show — these songs were written as pop songs, and you really have to work to make them work in a theatrical context.”

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